21 February 2010

Please Kill Me: An Uncensored Oral History of Punk (aka current "CANNOT PUT THIS DOWN" read.)

Please Kill Me... is one of those books that people have been telling me to read for pretty much ever.  "well, you're a music writer!" "you like rock and roll, don't you?" "you like andy warhol/david bowie/the ramones/iggy pop..." yes, i am an aspiring journalist who writes about music.  yes, i can think of no better occupation than chasing around rock stars and musicians hoping to catch a break in boston.  and no, i can't think of any good reason why i haven't torn it apart from the sheer voracity of reading it yet.

but i did.   and this book reminds me of why i work hard, why i sleep less, why i drink more, why i fight louder and harder and dirtier than i ever have before and why i will do whatever it takes to ensure that local talents receive the attention they deserve in a way that'll touch readers and hopefully convince them to pick up a paper on the regular.   i could recite half the quotes in Please Kill Me... because they're all fantastic ["iggy, what're you doing wearing a woman's dress?" "...this is a man's dress", etc], but as cliche as it sounds, i found myself relating to lester bangs more than i'd care to admit by the time i reached the Cast of Characters index on the last pages of the paperback:

"Just for the record, I would like it known by anybody who cares that I don't think life is a perpetual dive.  And even though it's genuinely frightening, I don't think Richard Hell's fascination with death is anything but stupid... And all the Richard Hells are chickenshits who trash the precious gift too blithely, and they deserve to be given to credence, but shocked awake in some violent matter.  Either that or spanked and put to bed." (Lester Bangs, "You Should Never Have Opened That Door", Please Kill Me... pg. 282)

it's painful to read through most of this - to read through the overdoses and the near brushes with death and the record company screw ups and the brutalized relationships and the untimely demises of the people who dreamed up, conceived and shattered one of the most revolutionary movements in modern music.  legs mcneil and gillian mccain did an exceptional job with their edits, because they absolutely document the beginnings of punk in the words of the people who made it happen, and they chronicle the rises and falls of the people who made CBGB's what it was and who were fortunate enough to know what the insides of warhol's factory looked like and who were panicking when pattie smith fell off the stage that night.  there's nothing more disheartening than a writer who manipulates the words of an artist to satiate their own needs for attention, or to use someone else's brilliance for their own personal gain.  legs mcneil and gillian mccain did more than write an incredible book: they restored my faith in my craft which i had lost and they restored my faith in journalism and artistic collaboration and the value of intellectual integrity in one fell swoop.

i found myself sobbing when people like lester and johnny thunders met their makers and when sid and nancy were reunited in a small jewish cemetery.  sure, it's sad reading about people dying and getting murdered and shooting themselves up until their blood runs black, but i had never had characters taken away so abruptly from me in a book before, and then the shock set in that these people lived and are directly responsible for making me love what i do.  Please Kill Me... makes me want to be a better writer.  Period.

also: this is probably the most emotional book review that's ever existed.  kind of embarrassing, but there you have it.

if you make music, if you write, if you make art, if you love music, if you love reading, if there's a creative bone in your body or a creative thought in your pretty little head.... juuuust read Please Kill Me... and go listen to the New York Dolls or Iggy and the Stooges or something, and be thankful.

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